Preached on 26 August 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, Proper 16 (thematic track)
What gives you life?
As we go through our days, we each have a variety of interactions with people, activities and tasks. Some of them are life-giving. They build us up, give us joy or satisfaction; they make us feel alive.
Others are life-draining or even deadening. They drag us down and drain us emotionally and/or spiritually.
What is life-giving one day may be life-draining on another day.
Often, we find our relationships with special people to be life-giving. Or it may be something we do that truly makes a difference in someone’s life or something that gives us a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction that gives us life. Even things that are difficult, challenging, and exhausting can be life-giving.
On the other hand, pointless tasks, mind-numbing activities or difficult interactions with people can be life-draining.
In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus and Peter talking about what gives life. We have come, at last, to the final section of the Bread of Life discourse in John’s gospel. Today, we see the people’s response. The reading begins with the last few verses from last week’s reading, where Jesus talks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood; about abiding in him and drawing life from him.
Today we learn that this has all taken place at the synagogue in Capernaum; no wonder the Jewish leaders are upset.
It seems that it’s all just a bit too much for most of the crowd. These are people who have been following him. They followed him to the grassy knoll where he fed them bread and fish. Then they followed him across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, to the synagogue where he delivers this discourse. Jesus makes some pretty bold claims, talking about manna and bread from heaven. He claims to be living bread that has come from heaven; that he is from God, that he is God, and that he will return to heaven. Then there is the bit about actually eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
They start grumbling (like the Israelites in the desert). “This is difficult,” they say, “who can accept it?” Another translation puts it, “This is intolerable!”
At this point, Jesus stops talking about bread and begins talking about the spirit and life. But it’s all too much. Many of those who have been following him turn and leave.
So Jesus asks the Twelve if they want to leave as well. And we hear Peter’s confession of faith. “Where would we go? You have the words of life. You are the Holy One of God.”
Following Jesus, discipleship is hard; the teaching is difficult – but it is life-giving in a way he has never known before.
It’s important to remember that the crowd following Jesus are faithful Jews. They know the law and the teachings, but they have no experience of the sacraments; they know nothing of the crucifixion or resurrection or ascension of Jesus. What he is saying is abhorrent to them; it is an offense to what they have been taught.
John’s original audience, however, is seeing this with post-resurrection eyes, with post-ascension eyes. They have tasted the bread and wine of the Eucharist. We have the benefit of 2,000 years of Christian tradition and practice. In fact, it may be so familiar to us that we have become rather blasé about what we do at this table each Sunday morning; about what God does at this table each Sunday morning.
Can we, with Peter, proclaim, “Lord, You have the words of eternal life?”
Going back to where we started, What gives you life?
I encourage you to try the spiritual practice of the examen. Each evening, spend some time with God in reviewing your day. When did you feel truly alive? Most loved and loving? When did you feel at home in yourself? Aware of God or Christ’s presence? Give thanks for those times and notice what they were.
Then ask yourself when you felt disordered, drained? Unloved, unlovable, or unloving? Did you feel like a stranger to yourself? Separated from God? Acknowledge those times. Note what made you feel that way. Ask God what you might have done differently, forgive yourself and let it go.
With time, you may notice patterns.
What do you find is life-draining? Can you eliminate it from your life and replace it with that which is life-giving?
Obviously, there are obligations that are life-draining but that we can’t neglect. There’s a reason they’re called “chores,” after all.
Ironically, though, as we seek joy and satisfaction; as we seek life we often try to find it in life-draining pursuits. As Jesus put it, “we work so hard for bread that does not satisfy.” And then we find that we have no time or resources left for that which does satisfy, for that which gives us life.
Do you notice a pattern of what is truly life-giving?
Don’t forget to include times of relaxation and refreshment. What draws you closer to God?
This teaching is difficult, the people say. Following Jesus can be hard, challenging. But in the end, will we find, like Peter, that Jesus, the Holy One of God truly does show us the way of eternal life?